The new rules package approved by the House on Monday night includes a provision that could affect the government workforce, allowing members of Congress to attempt to fire or reduce the salary of Federal employees during the appropriations process.

The Holman Rule, first adopted in 1876 and reinstated by House Republicans for the new Congress, will permit “amendments to appropriations legislation that would reduce the salary of or fire specific federal employees, or cut a specific program.”

It was approved on a mostly party-line vote as part of the new Republican majority’s 55-page rules package – a vote that shaped up as the first test of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership after he won the gavel following a grueling 15 rounds of voting.

Any appropriations language passed in the House would require approval by the Democratic-controlled Senate and a presidential signature to become law, so provisions pushed by House Republicans under the Holman Rule likely would face tough sledding.

But Democrats and Federal employee unions expressed alarm over the Holman Rule’s revival, saying it could obstruct the appropriations process and enable Republicans to target Federal workers for political reasons.

“We are all too familiar with House Republican efforts to vilify and punish hardworking federal civil servants for doing their jobs,” nine Democratic House members representing the Washington D.C. region aid in a statement. They included Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who is influential on Federal workforce issues.

The House Democrats raised concerns that Republicans will use the rule to defund law enforcement and attempt to shied former President Donald Trump from criminal investigations, pointing to a recent statement from Rep. Andy Biggs., R-Az., former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Biggs said: “We have to get the House back, we have to get the Senate back…there are things you can do. You can do a Holman  Rule. And what you do is you start defunding some of these bad agencies – the FBI, the DOJ. You use the Holman rule to defund people who have abused their power.”

The Freedom Caucus supported the Holman Rule’s revival but cast the benefits in broader terms, saying it would help Congress hold the Executive Branch accountable.

“Congress has the tools in its arsenal to hold the Biden Administration accountable,” the caucus said in a document calling for changes in House rules. “Democrats eliminated the ‘Holman Rule’ when they took the House because it allows Members to make targeted spending cuts in appropriations funding bills by slashing the funding of specific federal programs or cutting the salaries of individual federal employees (e.g., Dr. Anthony Fauci). Republicans must reimplement the Holman Rule.”

When the Holman Rule first passed in 1876, according to the Congressional Research Service, it “effectively granted the Appropriations Committee authority to include virtually any legislative provision in an appropriations measure so long as it reduced the number and salary of federal officials, the compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury, or the amounts of money covered in an appropriation bill.”

The rule remained in House rules in various forms over the years but was considered relatively arcane until House Republicans reinstated it in 2017. They attempted to use it at least twice during the 115h Congress (2017-2019), in one instance to abolish the Budget Analysis Division of the Congressional Budget Office, with 89 employees and annual salaries aggregating $15 million.

Republicans also tried to reduce the salary of Mark Gabriel, the Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration, to $1.29. Both amendments failed to pass.

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Jerry Markon